We arrived in beautiful Laos a few days ago (actually it was way longer but we haven’t had a decent internet connection to upload this blog post!). Our first stop was Luang Prabang. The pace of life is a far cry from the chaos of Hanoi. Luang Prabang is a charming little city on the banks of the Mekong. The architecture is a mixture of French colonial and traditional Laoatian (wooden houses made from teak). There are numerous “Wat” temples dotted around and a correspondingly high number of monks, more than any other place we’ve visited.
The first thing that struck us when we arrived in Laos is how nice the people are. They are very gentle and friendly people and the whole place has a very different feel than any other Asian country we’ve visited. Unlike Vietnam they don’t seem to have any propaganda or museums dedicated to the Vietnam war – despite Laos being the most bombed country per capita in the world. They have transformed the bomb casings into flower pots and the craters into fish ponds. We read that more bombs were dropped on Laos than were dropped during the entire second world war – the equivalent of a plane load of bombs every eight minutes around the clock for 9 years! A frightening statistic. Most of this occurred during secret bombing missions.
We got up at daybreak yesterday to watch the daily ritual of alms giving to the monks that live in Luang Prabang. Each monk carries a gold topped wooden box in which they collect the offerings from the local people. They give ‘alms’ of sticky rice as an offering to feed the dead spirits of their past relatives. It was quite a spectacle to see the long line of monks, dressed in their traditional orange robes, silently walking barefoot through the streets of the city collecting the alms.
Later on we hired a tuk tuk with four other travellers and took a trip to the Kwang Si Falls. After our superb experience in Iguazu we weren’t expecting anything to match the magnificence of Argentina…. but we were very pleasantly surprised. The beautiful cascades run into turquoise pools which you can swim in! There is also a bear sanctuary as you enter the National Park. This was the first time either of us had seen real bears in the flesh!
On the way back into Luang Prabang we stopped off at a local Hmong Village and saw a very basic existence – houses made of bamboo with straw roofs but with very little furniture inside. The children of this Hmong village have a very tough life. You really feel for them and realise just how lucky we all are.
We have also taken to sampling the many local delicacies Luang Prabang has to offer. The food is quite different to Vietnamese but we have loved tasting the different specialities Laos has to offer! The most famous delicacy is something called Khai Penh which is a dried river weed. It is fried with sesame seeds and served with a delicious spicy dip. Divine! We also fell in love with the Luang Prabang sausage. It’s very coarse in texture but has the most amazing flavour. In the evening there is a wonderful night market with many stalls selling everything from silk scarves and slippers to banana and coconut cakes. The sellers are much quieter here. There is no pressure or hassle to buy unlike other Asian countries we’ve been to. Neil was also very brave and decided to sample the best local culinary experience by grabbing some night market food. It was barbequed fish on a stick. It tasted superb and was a bargain $1.50!
After a lovely few days of relaxing in Luang Prabang we set off on a long bus ride to Vientiane. We opted to take the VIP bus… but the bus wasn’t quite the VIP service we imagined. The bus journey was expected to take around 9 hours but after three breakdowns… yes THREE breakdowns we arrived at the Capital city 11 hours after leaving Luang Prabang. The bus driver must have anticipated that the bus would breakdown as there were about four mechanics travelling with us. It was quite remarkable to see them in action. And just when you are in the middle of nowhere and the bus is showing no sign of starting up, suddenly a moped with two passengers pulls up carrying two barrrels of fuel! The driver and his mechanics worked on the bus for a whole other hour, trying various things. Eventually the bus started again… releasing a big black cloud and then 30 tense minutes later we arrived at Vientiane bus station. Phew!
Vientiane is described as Asia’s nicest capital city. It’s so different from the frantic cities of Bangkok and Hanoi. It’s very compact and easy to get around on foot. Being so small you can see all the sights in one day. It has a big French influence here. In fact there maybe more French restaurants than Laos restaurants! We’re off to sample our last taste of Laos cuisine before we set off on another long journey to Thailand. We are booked on the overnight train to Bangkok so no doubt another travel adventure awaits…..